Lies and the Lying Women Who Tell Them, From 'Fleabag' to 'Politician'

3:30 PM 11/18/2019

by Katie Campione

The truth hurts for these complex female anti-heroines, brought to life by standout performances on shows like 'Big Little Lies,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,' Good Girls' and 'Dead to Me.'

'Fleabag' (left), 'The Politician'
'Fleabag' (left), 'The Politician'
Courtesy of Amazon Studios; Courtesy of Netflix
  • 'Fleabag'

    Phoebe Waller-Bridge

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    The hit Amazon series (which won six Emmys for its second season) centers on Waller-Bridge’s character (called Fleabag), a woman who is deeply flawed and doesn’t know how to do anything but make other people hate her as much as she hates herself — all while maintaining the veneer that everything is totally fine. She cheats, lies and refuses to accept help even though she desperately needs it. “She went on the biggest journey over the past two seasons, and she started as someone who sort of hated herself and ended up as someone believing that she could love again and forgive herself,” says Waller-Bridge about Fleabag’s journey over two (and, apparently and unfortunately, only two) seasons. 

  • 'Big Little Lies'

    Reese  Witherspoon, Nicole  Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern

    HBO

    With “lies” in the title, what else is to be expected from these five leading HBO ladies? In Monterey, California, a facade of adoring mothers, beautiful kids and exquisite homes hides a community that is fueled by secrets and cover-ups, keeping everyone guessing about the others’ motives. The second season saw the group of women hiding a crime involving a man’s death. “There’s just so many complex emotions at play,” says Woodley. “These women, I think, deep down want to resent one another, but can’t because they genuinely love each other. It’s just messy, like so many of our relationships are. I don’t think any friendship or relationship is black and white.”

  • 'The Politician'

    Gwyneth Paltrow

    Courtesy of Netflix

    As creator Ryan Murphy puts it, Netflix’s The Politician is about “wealthy people behaving badly.” It’s also about the lengths that people are willing to go to get what they want. For high school student Payton Hobart (Ben Platt), that’s the student body presidency first and the actual presidency later. Payton lies, keeps secrets and attempts to sabotage his opponents — but he learned it somewhere, right? Paltrow plays his adoptive mother, who has a few secrets of her own. Beneath the caftans and healing crystals, Paltrow’s Georgina Hobart attempts to raise money for the Syrian war debt and at one point makes an impassioned plea about voter suppression in America. Oh, and she’s having an affair. And she (and her husband, played by Bob Balaban) bought their older son’s way into Harvard. Nothing to see here. 

  • 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'

    Rachel Brosnahan

    Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Studios

    Midge Maisel (Brosnahan) is the picture-perfect housewife — that is, until her husband leaves her for another woman and she decides to try out life as a stand-up comedienne. Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is “about a complex, driven, curious, flawed woman, who is at the center of her own story, who is trying to change her own narrative,” says Brosnahan, who took home an Emmy for her performance as Midge in season one. In the second season, Midge struggled with keeping her new profession a secret from her family, but it was only a matter of time before it got out. The third season, set to debut Dec. 6, sees Midge go on tour with her stand-up routine while still trying to win over her parents to her new career.

  • 'Good Girls'

    Christina Hendricks, Retta, Mae Whitman

    Courtesy of Danielle Levitt/NBC

    The three moms at the center of the NBC crime dramedy will do anything for their kids. When they realize it’s up to them to keep their families above water, they rob a grocery store that also happens to be the base for an underground money-laundering scheme. “There’s a lot of laughing involved in this, and surreal wackiness,” Hendricks says of the female-led show, which premiered its second season March 3 (and has already been renewed by the network for season three). From explaining away mysterious bullet holes in a car to smuggling counterfeit money across the Canadian border, these women offer a master class in the art of deceit. 

  • 'Dead to Me'

    Christina Applegate

    Saeed Adyani/Netflix

    Nothing is ever as it seems on Netflix’s Dead to Me. When a grieving Jen (Applegate) meets Judy (Linda Cardellini) at a support group, the two form an unlikely friendship. Jen just lost her husband in a mysterious hit-and-run, and she believes that Judy has just lost her husband, too. Except that isn’t true — nor is most of what Judy tells her. While Cardellini’s character does most of the lying (and the lies are huge), that doesn’t stop Applegate’s character from being labeled as crazy and distrustful in her grief. “Those labels are so dismissive, aren’t they?” says Applegate. “If someone calls you that, they’re dismissing all the things you’re feeling, and that makes you more frustrated because there’s so much complexity to all of us, especially women.” 

    This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.